OSLO, NORWAY. The human brain develops rapidly during the last trimester (13 weeks) of pregnancy and the first months following birth. This brain growth depends on an adequate supply of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid. Norwegian researchers recently completed a study of the effect of maternal fish oil supplementation on IQ (intelligence quotient) in the child at 4 years of age.
A total of 341 pregnant women took part in the study. They were randomized to receive 2 teaspoons (10 ml) per day of cod liver oil or the same amount of corn oil from the 18th week of pregnancy to 3 months after delivery. To be accepted into the study, the women also had to declare their intention of breastfeeding their infant. The fish oil (cod liver oil) provided 1200 mg/day of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and 800 mg/day of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). The breast milk of mothers receiving the fish oil supplement contained almost 3 times as much DHA as did the breast milk of mothers receiving corn oil.
At 4 years of age, 84 children had their IQ tested using the Kaufman Assessment Battery for Children (K-ABC). The children whose mothers had supplemented with fish oil and who had been breastfeed for at least 3 months after birth scored an average of 4 points higher on the K-ABC scale. The researchers point out that this increase is highly significant in overall terms and would be difficult to attain through normal teaching procedures.
Helland, Ingrid B., et al. Maternal supplementation with very-long-chain n-3 fatty acids during pregnancy and lactation augments children’s IQ at 4 years of age. Pediatrics, Vol. 111, January 2003, pp. 39-44